Storing Dahlias over the Winter

Dahlia storage techniques

By: Sandy Feather 2008
Penn State Extension

Q. I planted dahlias for the first time this year. I know they have to be dug up and brought inside for the winter. Can you tell me the best way to store dahlia bulbs over the winter?

A. Although we tend to call all plants that grow from underground structures "bulbs," technically dahlias are tuberous roots. They are not winter hardy in our climate and must be dug up and stored indoors until spring. Dahlias should be dug carefully to avoid wounding those thick, fleshy roots. Cut the majority of the foliage back, but be sure to leave three or four inches of stem attached where they sprout from the tubers. Next year's growth will come from eyes at the base of those stems. If you remove the stems entirely, they will not grow next year.

Preparing tubers for winter

Brush as much soil off the tuberous roots as possible, but do not wash them. Lay them on an old screen and allow them to dry in a protected, shady area with good air circulation for a week or so. Then store them in a dry peat moss, perlite, vermiculite or sand in shallow trays or cloth bags that allow for air circulation. Keep them in a cool (35 - 50F), dry place where there is no danger of them freezing.


Planting Dahlias next spring

All danger of frost should be past before
planting dahlia tubers in the spring.
Frost on glass

As I am sure you noticed, the tuberous roots increased in size dramatically over the growing season compared to the small pieces you planted last spring. Avoid the temptation to divide them until next spring. You will have much less trouble with them rotting in storage. You can safely divide them next spring before planting them. Be sure to include a piece of eye-bearing stem with each division. Although they should not be planted outside until all danger of frost has past, you can pot them up earlier and hold them indoors to get a head start on the growing season.


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